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Because, awareness.

May 26, 2024

6 minute read...

A friend was telling me the other day that every quarter, all the staff in the not-for-profit company she works for are required to change their email signatures. They’re supposed to do this in order to incorporate the latest messaging designed by the marketing department.

Now I get it that changing your email signature is a relatively simple thing to do. Not a big deal, right? But my friend also doesn’t like wasting time, her own or anybody else’s. 

She thought about the time the marketing team would have spent creating the new signature templates each quarter. And the time, even if it was only 5-10 minutes, that she and everyone else in the firm would spend on installing their new signatures. When she added up all that time, it didn’t seem trivial to her.  So she inquired as to why this practice was in place. 

The reply she received was “branding”. 

What does that even mean?

As she queried further, my friend learned that the marketing department believed that fresh email signatures would pique the interest of email readers, and as a result, the company would be more “top of mind” to those who receive the company’s emails. 

And how does marketing know whether this quarterly effort is having any effect? They don’t. 

It’s just being done under the belief that it’s a good thing to do and that somehow, some way, the change in the email signature every quarter is increasing interest in the company.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in brand awareness just as much as the next person. 

But I also think my friend's story is a pretty common one, probably even common to a few readers of this newsletter!

It follows a pattern that looks a bit like this: 

  1. Somebody comes up with a seemingly good idea.
  2. The seemingly good idea is implemented and incurs a small, but not insignificant, cost in recurring time and money.
  3. Nobody is exactly sure what the goal of the seemingly good idea was and so it is put in the inoffensive bucket of “branding”.
  4. The seemingly good idea continues this way indefinitely.
  5. Repeat the process. (No, I don’t mean “rinse and repeat”. Nothing is rinsed. Just repeat when the next seemingly good idea comes up.)


Ready, Aim

So if brand awareness really is an important means by which we increase interest (and from there, increase sales), how do we ensure our limited time, effort, and marketing dollars are actually doing that?

Or put another way, how do we avoid wasting time, effort, and money on things that are supposedly making a difference instead of on things that are actually making a difference?

This brings me to a recent conversation I had with a client’s marketing team who was facing a very similar challenge to my friend’s employer.

Marketing director: “I have a great idea for a marketing campaign, but I’m having difficulty completing the ODSC.1

As always, we started with the Objective. We do this because when the objective of a project isn’t clear, then expecting the various tasks in the project to reach it is a gamble at best. It’s simply too easy for scope creep to take hold, increasing money, time and effort spent.  

In the case of my client, the marketing team had written the objective as (surprise!) “creating awareness”. 

So I asked the team, “Do you remember, what is the constraint of your business?” 

The director’s immediate response was, “the number of customers buying vehicles or getting their vehicle serviced from our stores.”

“That’s right! Now, given this, do you recall what we all agreed is the job of every single person in the company once any existing or potential customer shows up, whether that’s virtually or in person?” 

Another member of the team responded. “Yes! We treat them like the precious gems they are! We show them how much we appreciate them, we give them excellent service, we are transparent and honest, we make deals that are great for both them and us, and all this shows them we are unlike any other dealer.”

The team member continued, “The job of everyone in our stores is to make it a no-brainer for our guests to do business with us and come back again and again. And to recommend us to their friends and families too!”

“Way to go!” I said with a big smile. “Now, given what you’ve said so far, what is the role of marketing? What is your job? Once you are clear in that answer, you will be able to have simple yet powerful criteria for establishing the ODSC for any marketing project.”

It took several minutes, but the Marketing Director and team concluded that any marketing project or program must aim for one or both of the following objectives:

  • Attract more people to the stores for the purpose of buying (or considering to buy) a vehicle or service from the company, and/or
  • Increase the loyalty of guests who are already buying their vehicles and service from the company.

The team realized that unless “generating awareness” is part of a larger plan that will lead to more people raising their hands and indicating an interest to buy or service a vehicle, they are wasting their and the company’s resources. Not to mention doing a disservice to potential customers that would benefit greatly by choosing their stores over any others. 

They agreed on the importance of estimating and measuring the results the projects are intended to generate. 

The examples of results to measure won’t come as a surprise, but being intentional about estimating and then measuring is not as common a practice one might hope, especially when it comes to marketing. As I pointed out earlier, “creating awareness” is often used instead as a catch-all for fuzzy marketing initiatives.

In contrast to this assumption-heavy approach so common in marketing, our ODSC analysis led the team to define the outcomes of the company’s marketing projects to be estimated and measured: 

  • Number of people coming to one of the stores virtually or in person looking for a new or used vehicle, and/or
  • Number of people making service appointments, and/or
  • Number of responses to a different call to action (for example, click on the website)

It’s important to reiterate that when estimates are made, they are not treated as commitments. Rather they are treated as part of a hypothesis, as we wait to see if the assumptions made were valid or not. Reality will then let us know, and when there is a gap, we proceed with a mystery analysis2 to learn and adjust.


Decision Making Criteria

Above and beyond any specific ODSC, the company’s management team determined that the first criteria to use for assessing any project, policy change or process change is:

  • The degree to which implementing the decision will increase the number of customers coming to the store for vehicles or service
  • The degree to which implementing the decision will increase the loyalty of the existing customers

When either or both are positive, they then consider the return-on-investment of money and effort.

The company’s ODSC template includes a space for project owners to estimate the return on investment (ROI) they anticipate from the project. Like other estimates, the ROI estimate is not taken to be a commitment, rather it’s meant to cause the project owner to consider the money and effort required, and compare that with what the project is intended to achieve vis-a-vis the goal of the company. It serves as a basis for management’s decision on whether and when to proceed with the project. It is also used as a key reference for a mystery analysis when the actual outcomes are significantly different than what had been estimated.

Because of this company wide commitment, selection and timing to launch projects has already become much easier, not just for marketing but for any project considered in the organization.

Until next time,



P.s. If you’re knowledgeable in Theory of Constraints (TOC), you will have seen in this newsletter an example of the 5 focusing steps as well as uses of assumption hacking.

1.Yuji Kishira developed the ODSC framework. You can learn more in his book, WA: Transformation Management by Harmony.
2. Here’s an example of a mystery analysis in action.



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  • Assumption Hacking Essentials. Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt said in his forward to The Goal, “The challenging of basic assumptions is essential to breakthroughs.” In this digital course, I'll take you through a five step process for challenging those basic assumptions and creating breakthrough in the process. You can learn more about the course here. →
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